Why Socha Na Tha Reaffirms the Arranged Marriage

I just posted a thing about summery songs, and one of the commentators reminded me of “Abhi Abhi” from Socha Na Tha.  Which then reminded me about Socha Na Tha as a whole.  I looooooooove Socha Na Tha!  And I feel like, as Imtiaz Ali gets further and further from his roots, his first big break film is getting forgotten.  And it shouldn’t be!  Because I think it is better than what he is doing now.  And it says something much more interesting about Indian society than all the Tamasha‘s and Rockstar‘s and Highway‘s put together.

Socha Na Tha was produced by Dharmendra in order to launch his nephew, Abhay.  Part of it’s greatness is what a wonderful launch movie it is.  Small, unassuming, no big expectations (unlike, say, Refugee and Abhishek/Kareena), a nice sort of dip your toe in the water kind of production, not a leap in feet first to a career one.

Plus, Abhay’s character is really perfect for Abhay.  Young and innocent, taking advantage of his fresh-faced first-film vibe.  But also urban, westernized, wealthy, thinks he’s cooler than he is.  Which matches with Abhay himself, as we have come to know him in the years since.  This is more of an artsy artistic intelligent films kind of guy, not a big blockbuster type.

And he’s supported by an excellent-but-not-too-excellent cast.  That’s one of the (few) problems with Kaho Na Pyar Hai.  It was an perfect showcase for Hrithik, but whenever he wasn’t onscreen and you were stuck with overly emoting, poorly styled, and badly scripted Amisha, your attention wandered.  Definitely not a problem here, Ayesha is adorable, and the rest of the cast is rounded out by character acting stalwarts from Suresh Oboroi (Viviek’s Dad! and he plays Abhay’s Dad in this) to Sandhya Mridul (Rani’s sister in Saathiya, Ayesha’s sister in this).  But at the same time, the supporting cast is carefully modulated not to over-shadow Abhay, no issues like Rani Mukherjee being the best part of Saawariya here.

Finally, it’s not a very original movie.  I mean, it is, in ways I will describe in a second, but not in any ways that the audience would find notable or threatening.  It’s a nice sweet little romance, that’s it.  No big political statements or aesthetic challenges or anything like that.  Good songs, pretty costumes, location shoot in Goa, and it ends with a wedding/elopement, as all movies should.

I give the credit for most of this to Dharmendra.  Basically, he only produces launch films, for all those various Doel relatives he wants to start out right.  And this was his 3rd hit launch film, after launching Sunny in Betaab and Bobby in Barsaat (no, he didn’t launch his daughters.  Because of that whole 2 families weirdness that we don’t talk about).  So he knows how to pick a good launch film and tailor it to the needs of the particular launchee.

But he also picked a really good first time writer/director.  What Imtiaz does with this film is really brilliant, interrogating the very underpinnings of the Indian romance.  Or rather, re-affirming them.

The situation in the first half of this film is basically the second half of a traditional romance.  Our hero, Abhay, is in love with a Christian girl.  In a normal movie, the first half would be their first meeting and love story and so on.  But in this case, we are just dropped into the end of it.  He wants to marry her, she wants to marry him, but he knows his family won’t approve.  But while he is working up his nerve to talk to his father, his family arranges for him to “meet” Ayesha, a nice girl from a nice family who they want him to marry.  Love triangle!

Except, not really.  Because the movie questions our understanding of what “love” really is.  Is love the girl he’s been dating since high school, who he writes songs about, who he moons over to all his friends?

Or is it the one who he just really likes talking to?  Who inspires him to be a better person?  Who he inspires to feel comfortable in her own skin and let loose a little?

 

And is love something you can find in a moment, something that leads to big dramatic pronouncements and realizations, or is it something that sneaks up on you?  That changes you without you even realizing it?  That makes you feel like you and one other person are all that matters in the world?

 

The big movement of the film isn’t that the characters fall in and out of love, it’s that they realize love isn’t what they thought it was.  He doesn’t want to marry his girlfriend, not just because he is in love with Ayesha, but because he knows what they had together wasn’t right.  And in the end, she realizes it too.  That’s another thing I love about this movie, there are no “evil” characters.  His girlfriend was in love with him, she wanted to marry him, but months later, after everything’s blown over, she realizes that he didn’t feel the same way, and it was better to have her heartbroken than be part of a broken marriage.

Beyond realizing what love is, they also need to grow into different, better, people before they deserve love.  Abhay figures out what he wants, and then goes about getting it in the most selfish cowardly way possible.  Yes, he and Ayesha are truly in love, but that doesn’t give them the right to ignore the needs of others.  Which is why he is left heartbroken, dreaming of her, instead of getting to be with her

And at the same time, Ayesha is coming to a different realization.  That her perfectly nice groom, the guy she used to date in college, isn’t the one she wants.  That she can go through with the marriage and make her family happy, but she will be miserable all her life and it isn’t worth.  She deserves to be selfish, in the end it is better that way.

 

Now, here’s what makes this film really interesting, instead of just very well-made.  Strip out all the bells and whistles, and this is a story that justifies arranged marriages.  Both Ayesha and Abhay had relationships with people they found on their own.  And they convinced their families to agree to turn those relationships into marriage.  And it would have been the worst thing possible for them.

They didn’t need someone they had fun with, someone they went clubbing with and partied with, they needed someone they could build a life with.  Someone who had the same values, way of thinking, interests.  And at the same time, was different enough to challenge them, to balance them.  Basically, what your parents look for in an arranged marriage!

It’s a clever twist at the end, that Ayesha suggests they elope-but-not-elope.  Because they know their families approve of the relationship, it would just be getting through the wedding that would be tricky (after two broken engagements and so on).  But it’s also an awareness that they are marrying now with their families’ blessings (unspoken though they may be).

Strip out all of the twists and turns and complications, and his family wanted him to get married so he would grow up and hers wanted her to marry so she would be happy.  They arranged they meeting, and six months later, here they are, married, and grown-up and happy (respectively).

 

And that’s why “Abhi Abhi” is the big break out hit of the film.  Because it is clearly based on “Kabhi Kabhi” from the film of the same name.  In which Amitabh gives up his true love, Raakhi, so she can marry the man her parents have chosen for her, awesome Shashi.  20 years later, they meet again.  And it is sad, but it is also good.  They are both with other people now, happy(ish) in their new marriages.  Maybe in the 70s it would have been a clean break, no backward looks, your parents forced you apart.  But in the 2000s it is left up to the couple to come to the realization on their own, that the college romance is shallow and empty, that a marriage requires so much more, that it is better to be with nice reliable cheerful Shashi Kapoor than dreamy and dramatic Amitabh.  Or, in this case, with cheerful Ayesha who makes you happy than with brittle Apoorva Jha.

 

 

32 thoughts on “Why Socha Na Tha Reaffirms the Arranged Marriage

  1. You finally did it!! YAY!! Loved it 🙂

    I like it how in the end, Abhay’s dad “gives up” in front of his elder son. I just really like this movie – they show reality in a sense (I had started writing out my thoughts but then deleted because i was literally relating what happened in the movie but adding my comments in.

    I love how real and fresh this movie was.

    I did not pick up on the Kabhi Kabhi movie connection – I like!

    Although, one question – I never understood this part, a little help please 🙂

    He goes “hmmmm”, and she asks “what?” and then he responds with how he understood etc etc. What exactly did he understand (what she didn’t say)? This has been bugging me for years!

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    • I’ll have to wait until I get home to re-watch that bit. Partly because I want subtitles, partly because I really shouldn’t be watching videos at work! But I’ll let you know if I can crack it.

      And yes to the reality! It feels like this and Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal were all dealing with relationships in a really fresh way. Fewer magical eye meeting moments and fantasy trips to Switzerland, more talking and laughing and getting to know each other.

      But still using the songs to mark time, and having a real “Indian” feel to the romances, with concerns about family and family honor and all of that mixed in. Again, not in a big dramatic melodrama way, but in a little bitter fights and confrontations kind of way.

      And I just now realized while I was writing it out, that Humpty Sharma stole the completely grounded and reasonable reason that the family was against the relationship and she wasn’t willing to just elope from this movie! It makes so much more sense to have a real sense of personal backstory for it all, than just a blind “Papa says I can’t marry you because of the family honor so I won’t!” reasoning.

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      • Sorry, didn’t get what you meant by the Humpty Sharma part – I’m running on four hours sleep so more my fault really…

        And thank you! LoL yeah possibly not a good idea to be watching movies so closely at work. Although I definitely have bwood and punjabi music blaring into my earphones at work…I fear for the day the earphones are accidentally unplugged and I’ll have the most embarrassing song playing hahaha

        Yes, I did like Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal too – although JWB > LAK.

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        • I was being purposefully opaque about the Humpty reference to avoid spoilers. So, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

          In both cases, we find out that the reason the heroine’s family is so nervous about her marriage, and that she is so considerate of their feelings, is that her older sister had a failed marriage. There are reasons specific to these characters for their fathers to fly off the handle so fast, and the heroines to be so resistant to eloping and embarrassing the family.

          END SPOILER

          I have Indian music in my earphones all day too! I’ve got the Yuva soundtrack going right now. And for me, Socha Na Tha > Jab We Met >>>>>>LAK. Jab We Met may be the better movie in terms of acting and style and stuff, but Socha Na Tha just has so much heart! And then Love Aaj Kal had all those stupid moments when you just wanted to shake them and say “You’re in love! Do something about it!” Unlike in SNT and JWM when the obstacles felt much more organic.

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          • Ohhhh right! Yes, I totally agree with you! That helped the audience understand everything so much better.

            Very true how SNT and JWB being organic with their obstacles. However, the end scene in LAK was all kinds of adorable – I’m glad no one spoiled that for me before I watched it. Of course the Rishi-Neetu relationship was never very happily stable, but the reel relationship was pretty great hahaha

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          • A reviewer spoiled it for me! They said something like “you’ll never guess who shows up at the end to play Rishi’s wife!” And I thought “yes, I can guess! Thanks a lot, reviewer!”

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    • I finally watched it! And really, I could have responded at work, because it is the scene I thought it was and my first impression hasn’t changed since the first time I saw it. He is flirting a little, saying that he “understands” that she is jealous of Karan and/or in love with him herself. But he is saying it in such a way that depending on her reaction he can make it a joke or make it true. And he is saying it to get over an awkward bit of conversation.

      I think it is kind of the equivalent of the “Palat” scene in DDLJ. Well, the bit right before that. Or maybe not the “Palat” scene, but one of the earlier ones. Because by the time we get to “Palat”, Shahrukh is definitely in love and knows it. But there were times earlier when he was in love and didn’t know it, but was still putting out these little feelers almost unconsciously, trying to get a reaction from her.

      So, that’s what I think is happening here. Obviously, they are already in love, even if they don’t realize it. So she is feeling very stiff and awkward talking about his girlfriend, and he turns it into a joke about her falling in love with him to get past the awkward part, but is also watching her reaction to see if she maybe doesn’t want it to be a joke, but real.

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      • You rockstar! Thanks for making it make so much sense now! And now it seems so obvious lol

        On that note – this scene I actually have no inkling as to what it could mean – when Ayesha is getting scolded, her cousin sis is talking on the phone to her husband and his scolding him? What was the significance of that?

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        • I think it’s just to set up the stressful background for the family. That her relatives are taking the scolding they want to be giving to her cousin-sister’s ex and putting it all on her. That there is the same tone in how they are talking to her and how her sister is talking on the phone, so they are clearly coming from the same source of stress.

          Also, like in Humpty, I really wish there was a happy ending for the sister! They just leave them as “welp, your marriage failed, we still love and support you, but no more romance for you!” I know it’s not societally acceptable or believable or anything, but wouldn’t it be great if the dumped fiances in both films ended up with the sisters?

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          • You rockstar! Thank you for making sense of it all!!

            I don’t know – I quite liked that the ending was open for both sisters. They were both shown to be quite independent and successful after a failed marriage. They weren’t characters who wanted to be pitied – in Humpty Sharma, the sister just wanted her dad to show her some affection again.

            I presume they both find someone down the line – but when they’re ready for it, and on their terms. And if they don’t – it’s because that’s what they want out of their life.

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  2. I just re-watched Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which seems to convey a different message on love and marriage. The initial marriages — one a college friendship, one a dutiful pairing — fail because “true love” wasn’t there and wasn’t possible. One of the things I am enjoying about watching Indian films is their departure from the Hollywood rom com formula.

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    • Oh! Have you seen Silsila yet? It’s a really interesting companion to KANK. It clearly inspired it, but it has the opposite ending. There are a couple of key changes, most importantly I think KANK shows that the marriages were failing long before the affair started which is not the case in Silsila. Watching the two of them together is sort of a “see, this is when you stick it out and make the marriage work…..and this is when you don’t” lesson.

      But there are a surprising number of movies where the lesson is “don’t trust your first love feelings, after marriage you will definitely fall in love with your husband!” (Jeet, Hum dil De Chuke Sanam, Hote Hote Pyar Ho Gaya, etc.) Which is not a lesson you would see in an American movie!

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  8. Socha Na Tha was indeed Imtiaz’s best foot forward and it somehow, reminded me of the kind of work Vidhu Vinod Chopra did with Kareeb. These two movies (I watched the second one in bits and pieces though) and many others like this make for a perfect lazy-afternoon-movie-watching-session. I have Aaja Nachle, Hasee Toh Phasee, Badhai Ho Badhai, Om Jai Jagdish etc. on this list. They may not have fared that well, but they pull a chord somewhere.

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    • Oh, I know exactly what you mean! Pleasant, light, happy. Mine is Kuch Na Kaho, Also, you aren’t my best friend from college, are you? She is the only person I know who actually cared about Om Jai Jagadish. She got me to to watch it, and it is really pleasant and happy, but not exactly the greatest movie in the world.

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      • Hhahah…I haven’t watched Kuch Na Kaho entirely. But I did watch Dhai Akshar Prem Ke (my eyes :P). Your best friend seems like me. hahah. I loved the movie for its moral values, songs and Jeena Kya Jeevan Se Haarke is my fave song. Agreed, it is not the best of the movies that we have seen.

        Btw, is there any other way to reach you? Soon enough, I will end up commenting most and grabbing that card. Let me give someone else the chance! 🙂

        Jokes apart, I would love to discuss movies at length, whatever limited knowledge I have. So any email Id is fine with me. Will get in touch pronto!

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        • Aw, that’s so nice of you! I have your email from your comments, when I get a chance I will email you (work is crazy right now, so it may not be immediately). And hey, keep commenting, if you win the card I will have to email you anyway to get your address in a few days!

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          • Definitely! You can take your time!! 🙂 Meanwhile I will go through the length and breadth of your blog and discover/rediscover the magic of filmmaking. Ah, the pure joy of getting someone else’s perspectives! 😀

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          • I got this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ignore my earlier comment on your post please 😀 Feeling stupid as hell. I thought you gave me the mail id and I, being the scatterbrain that I am, lost it! 😛

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  17. Watched it today after 17 yrs of it’s realease….started of well but second half ruined it….Music is totally stale….. Not entirely unwatchable….considering a movie of 2005 its preety decent…but not something that has aged well with time..

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